Chapter 2: Introduction - From Net Art to Conceptual Art and Back

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Introduction to Chapter 2 of Proud to be Flesh - From Net Art to Conceptual Art and Back

For those introduced to new media art in the 1990s, the discovery of an earlier history of conceptual, computer art was often quite a startling revelation. Although the stand-alone, hard-drive based new media art of the late-’80s and early-’90s was often put into the same lineage as art made in the commercial computer labs of the past, there was a whole streak of more autonomous and socially critical technology-orientated work that was being sidelined by the new media art circuit. It was to these artists that Mute’s coverage increasingly turned, as their historically and politically grounded approach provided tools with which to critique some of the worst excesses of new media art naïveté. As the heady euphoria surrounding the www ‘revolution’ subsided, and its promise of delivering communicative equality and social autonomy revealed itself to be a cyber-fantasy, the desire to bring the force of avant-garde critique to bear on the market-complicit gadgetry of so much new media art became an almost compulsive desire for the Mute editors.

The chronological arrangement of this chapter charts the intensification of such looping-back into the themes of earlier, technologically-orientated conceptual art, which departs from the contemporary altogether. Rather than intending to suggest any dying off of contemporary art coverage in the magazine per se, this trajectory is dictated by the decision to remain faithful to the chapter’s main theme. This could loosely be defined as art’s engagement with the potentials of techno-scientific development in the wake of modernity’s failed narrative of (science- and technology-driven) progress.

In the temporal span of the chapter, it is interesting to see how certain concerns regarding the relationship between art and technology persist. Far from celebrating the ICA’s 1968 show, Cybernetic Serendipity, as the first exhibition in the UK dedicated to ‘the computer and the arts’, Gustav Metzger, dismissed it for obscuring computing’s principal deployment in modern warfare and social control, claiming that, ‘whilst more and more scientists are investigating the threats that science and technology pose for society, artists are being led into a technological kindergarten.’

Writing some 30 years later, about another ICA show – Imaginaria, dedicated to art and digital technology – Ewan Morrison claims, ‘The inherent technological utopianism of Digital Art is irresponsible, naïve and dangerous.’ He goes on to argue that technology always serves the interests of power, and that so-called digital artists fall prey to an agenda not their own. A similar concern is expressed by ’90s net artist, Vuk C´osic´, as he discusses artists who are ‘following high-tech and trying to be posh’, when actually ‘they are only selling equipment’. ‘As an artist’, he concludes, ‘you’re only falling within the boundaries of the imagination of an engineer if you’re working with an off-the-shelf product.’

But, while there is a perennial return of certain themes, there is also a total amnesia regarding others – according to Morrison at least. Crucial to his argument against digital art is the apparent failure of these artists to deal with the postmodern crisis of human progress. Technology hasn’t been used as a tool for social emancipation but for mass annihilation, and the associated modernist projects of communism and humanism have similarly failed. Intimately related to this is a loss of faith in art – therefore, says Morrison, any idea that the computer is giving rise to a new art form fails not only to recognise this epistemological crisis but to adequately respond to it. Art’s only respectable path, he asserts, is to revisit the conditions of its impossibility and those of society.

Although such critiques of techno-utopian art are well grounded, they don’t recognise the attempt by certain artists to find, in the very techniques and logic of the military-industrial complex, a way of mirroring, and thereby exposing/ subverting, this system of power. As Matthew Fuller puts it: ‘We live in an era in which the dominant mode of politics is systems analysis. Power has been handed over to a series of badly animated, white-shirted technicians who deliver fault reports and problem-fixes that can only be answered with an ‘Okay’ […] In this context, it is essential for artists and others to synthesise an un-format-able world.’

Josephine Bosma in her piece, ‘Is It a Commercial? Nooo… Is It Spam?… Nooo – It’s Net Art!’ – one of the earliest published overviews of the emerging genre of net art – takes another tack. In essence she argues, albeit in 1998, that the speed with which artists have taken to the web has succeeded in outstripping the art world’s ability to keep pace. Accordingly, commodification of the artwork was proving difficult, abetted by the rate of browser development, which meant that artworks designed to run on older browser softwares quickly became obsolete. The ephemerality of the medium was actively embraced by artists, many of whom also refused to ‘sign’ their works or to locate them in a permanent place. Rather than promoting a utopian view of the technology, then, these artists could be said to have exploited the faults in a specific technical system to advance a materialist critique of art’s own system.

However, Bosma also discusses the attempt by an early ‘experimental net-based company’ called ada’web to develop new ways of funding art by offering net art as a form of ‘creative research’ to the corporate sector, rather than asking for ‘“charity” money’. Founder, Benjamin Weil, is quoted as explaining that this ‘could make them understand better the medium they were investing in, and draw attention to their corporation as being innovative’. Not only does this strike one as a classic piece of knowledge economy rationale, it also reminds us of how commercially intoxicating the relationship between high-tech and art continues to be. One quickly sees the risks faced by artists working with technology in an avowedly experimental way – making medium-specific work which both critiques and advances those means – rather than deploying familiar technologies to draw attention to existing modes of life.

Michael Corris’ piece, ‘Systems Upgrade’, gives a crucial overview of the ‘white hot’ technological and scientific environment of the 1960s, and artists’ responses to it. In the wake of the accelerated technological development of war-time production – and the advancements in the productive base this had achieved – scientific and technological R&D were seen as central to the economy, and funded as never before. The significance of systems theory, cybernetics and information theory at this time – which artist, Stephen Willats, affirms in the interview Mute undertook with him in 2000 – took hold of the ‘1960s imagination’, expressed in a general enthusiasm for logic, order and systems. Corris discusses how these technocratic theories, hatched from ‘the objectives of military or corporate management’, were integrated into art both optimistically and critically. Impacting on conceptual art’s generalised bureaucratic and informatic aesthetic, the likes of Roy Ascott took matters further, seeking to transform art through the adoption of ‘homeostatic, self-regulating, self-assessing systems’. At the other end of the scale, argues Corris, systems theory provoked artists like Hans Haacke to deconstruct the entire social system in which the artwork participates. In other words, and in contradistinction to Morrison’s argument, the neo-avant-garde was able to rehearse the dystopian aftermath of modernity using its own techno-scientific tools. However, a distinction needs to be made between using a systems-based analysis to demystify the apparently neutral context of art, and using digital technology’s tendency to become obsolete – its glitches and failures – within the postmodern context of art’s endgame.

Any residual positivism in Haacke’s method had well and truly vanished from the net art of the ’90s – as it has from the general culture. And, as the Cold War – which provided the backdrop to artistic engagements with technology in the ’60s and ’70s – threatens to reignite itself (with Russia’s invasion of Georgia and the construction of a US missile shield at the former superpower’s borders), technology’s destructive power once again comes to the fore. With the social acculturation to computer technology virtually complete – thanks, in part, to the user-friendliness of Web 2.0 – the return of its repressed military uses in the form of Cold War II will no doubt challenge the hegemony of touchy-feely, ‘socially engaged’ varieties of media art. Conversely, however, the aura of warfare in the age of embedded reporting and incessant blogging has waned. The extent to which the civil application of computing will come to haunt its military matrix, or to which its military origins will crack the upbeat veneer lent to it by social networking, remains to be seen. Artists’ engagements with bleeding-edge tech will always have the potential to critique its destructive civil and military applications, as well as the potential to be co-opted by them – as propaganda or R&D – as the rise of the so-called knowledge economy has amply demonstrated. This chapter hopefully conveys how delicate the equilibrium between art and technology remains.

Proud to be Flesh

The Thing


A Sysop Describes his Art Bulletin Board and the Network it is Part of.


THE THING is an independent computer network, initiated in 1992 in New York by artists, art critics and curators. The following European cities are now connected: London (since 1994), Cologne, Berlin, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Vienna, Basel and Copenhagen. Future points of connection will be in Paris and Amsterdam.

Since the early nineties art discourse and the discussion of its social context have begun to have the equivalent standing to the actual realizations of art works. This can be seen in the plethora of workshops, lectures and discussion events that more often than not follow institutional and curatorial frameworks, but hardly ever actively reflect the form of the discourse itself. Rather than following the classical mode of disseminating information i.e. lecturer (the transmitter) and the audience (the receiver) THE THING was conceived as a tool for artists, art critics and curators to allow a multi-relationary communication and intervention and not as an end in itself. This choice of format is influenced by the dematerialization of art parameters starting in the sixties (Lucy Lippard: The Dematerialisation of Art). The distribution of information in the art context takes certain discreet forms (discreet knowledge = capital). The ability to be anonymous as a network user allows similar strategies. This fact makes one sceptical if in the end the hidden sub­text is more significant to the art discourse than the "open" discourse which is coded by other interests.

Up to now the public presentation of THE THING has been primarily indicated by the presence of a work-station in public galleries (Kunstverein Munich: Dagegen­Dabei; Kunstverein Hamburg: Interface). This signifies the activity but doesn't encourage audience participation. Therefore the importance is placed on the evidence that such an activity is currently taking place, rather than what is taking place. If you consider in the paradigms of the nineties that lots of artistic positions are contextual or also intervening, then as a result every form of cultural activism can use electronic communication as a vital tool. This would mean that THE THING functions at the line between real artistic presence (exhibitions, workshops, discussions) and the `invisible' forms of discourse, which have initiated the former or have been derived from them. This creates, owing to the regularity and speed of the contact, a social texture which printed media can not develop as fast. It is important to recognise that there can't be editorial control of THE THING. Passive use is discouraged, since each user is reader and also writer. The result could be seen as a secret agent network which represent! a small bit of the contemporary art scene The joining with the Internet in April 1995 is implicit in the structure and aims of THE THING. Assuming that we will see a further contextualisation of post conceptual art, then we need to ask ourselves if non-art areas will profit from the impulses from art or the other way round. In relation to THE THING this could mean that if we continue discussing art exclusively, the discussion could ultimately refer only to itself and go round and round in circles. The discourse between contextual art positions with positions of external disciplines such as Genetechnology, mediasciences, biology ecology etc. will create a perspective that is indispensable for the art of the nineties The merit of THE THING has been to locate technological communication possibilities within contemporary art. The border character of THE THING can provide the possibilities to create such a constructively mixed culture.

Andreas Rüdthi/Kate Davis.


Modem Only: THE THING LONDON 0181 292 7306


Proud to be Flesh

Is It a Commercial? Nooo… Is It Spam?… Nooo – It’s Net Art!




Vol 1 #10, Summer 1998

The most annoying discussion surrounding net art is the one that asks whether or not net art is truly a new art form. While some critics continue to deny the existence of this new art form within the communication networks, net art should be given some definition and positioned in relation to offline culture.

Place, History, Time
The term ‘’ was first used in 1996 when Vuk C´osic´ć organised the small gathering, per se, in Trieste. The dot in it made the term a sexy and humorous one. The people who got involved with were mostly connected through ‘nettime’ – the mailing list for net.criticism []. Nettime also saw the first criticism of the term, which soon provoked a broader discussion about art on the net. From the outset, this discussion was complex and it had many layers. The discourse around and its many relatives (net art/netart/web art/art on the net) is confusing in the extreme.
In essence, this complexity is caused by net art’s embeddedness within networks, a characteristic that also makes it so hard to describe. Building theory around art on the net, and, more specifically, doing this in constant discourse with others on the net, exposes one very directly to a mass of conflicting opinions, levels of perception and layers of communication. Add to this the unavoidable connection to the offline world and you have an explosive mixture of interests, cultures, schools and markets.
While the art world (a complex of the art market, academies, theorists and journalists) tries to get its expansionist grip on the development of new media art, the old electronic arts scene keeps to itself, sceptical of this newfound interest in electronic media. With the development of new media art, the art market is, quite literally, losing sight of the matter, and, with it, the self-evident creation of a product to sell. Whereas the electronic art scene (I am thinking of the circuit including Ars Electronica, V2, ZKM and ISEA) has based seminars and thematic exhibitions around online arts for years, the art world has suddenly been forced to deal with a shift away from commerce and postmodern capitalism by a medium with which it is hardly familiar. The art world is now desperately trying to find ways to encapsulate the electronic arts, and professionals are repositioning themselves on all fronts in this process. The development of electronic media has redistributed the tools of production and shifted the understanding of the value of art: What will become of the artist and the artwork? How will art be funded, and for what will artists be rewarded?

The recent discussion around ada’web [] – an art site which recently lost its corporate funding and had to close down – is only one example of how delicate the new forms of collaboration are within communication networks. Ada’web was an experimental net-based company, and its story shows why the strategies of ‘net.experiments’ require constant re-examination. What seem like good tactics during one period can become obsolete, or down right dangerous, during another. Benjamin Weil of ada’web explained on nettime:
Part of ada’web’s founding mission was to explore possible alternatives as far as funding for art online was concerned […] It was my belief that the development of the web would be an extraordinary opportunity for art to desegregate itself, and (re)gain a central position in ambient cultural discourse and practice […] Rather than knocking at the corporate door asking for ‘charity’ money, we thought we could convince them that art could be a valuable asset, […] it could be understood as a form of creative research which could make them understand better the medium they were investing in, and draw attention to their corporation as being innovative.
Ada’web tried to sell creativity and innovation, as a necessary commodity, to companies. It is questionable whether this is art’s main strength, though, and, arguably a subtle misjudgement was made on the part of ada’web in positing art’s ‘functionality’ in this way. Perhaps ada’web would have been more credible in the eyes of both the corporations and the net artists if it had tried to convince its benefactors of art’s intrinsic value before entering the ‘art as innovative inspirer’ chapter. On the other hand, ada’web made many important steps, one of which was to present artworks by their names and not those of the artists. In this way, value was assigned more to the work than to its provenance. Detaching work from its ‘brand’ could be a dominant strategy in the near future, and the experience of ada’web urges caution. For one thing, we will need to pay attention to the inability of small enterprises and individuals to protect authorship of their work, as big corporations are as protectionist as ever.

What is Net Art?
Art on the internet is more than just a continuation of 20th century art, and the notion that art is just another step in art history is, however, presently used derisively. The experiments being carried out on the internet are, in a certain sense, without precedent. Furthermore, art on the net is catalysing a resumption of discourses centred more on art’s intrinsic value than on the mechanisms of the art market.
Very early net art could mostly be defined as performative – it was temporary and left almost no trace within the networks. What distinguishes net art from earlier electronic art is its expanded connection to the internet (or the net’s predecessors). One could say that the more complex these connections become, the more we are able to talk about net art. This complexity is not necessarily found in literal hardware connections. Some more recent works achieve complexity through their poetic use of the whole network space. Artists have become so much more at home in the communications networks that an emotive but subtle use of those features is now possible.
Early net art mostly worked with data transmissions that were reassembled at creative will, on all ends of the ‘line’, and comprised sound, text and perform ance, simultaneously taking place in cyberspace, the mass media (mostly radio) and in physical spaces. An example would be The World in Twenty Four Hours by Robert Adrian, presented at Ars Electronica in 1982.1

In the recent work of ‘young’ art groups like Fakeshop or Re-lab (Xchange), one can find complexity in various forms. The poetic complexity I referred to earlier is found in, for instance, ‘subtle’ uses of the locality of servers, like in the Refresh project initiated by Alexei Shulgin, Vuk C´osic´ć and Andreas Broeckmann. It can also be found in Olia Lialina’s work, Agatha Appears, in which a ghost-like female figure appears in the same position on the pages of different servers. Lialina has published part of her diary on the net, in which she shows her subjective experiences of a ‘culty’ secret meeting. She has also published her will online, which contains only her online works, to be inherited almost exclusively by people with a similar obsession for To Lialina, the network environment is almost sacred, and she wants to pronounce its features strongly in a sensitive, sometimes romantic, way.
An example that stands out because of its unique style is Jodi (the collective name of artists Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans). Jodi’s work is both deeply poetic and complex, although they rarely work within decentralised art projects, preferring to concentrate on their site, dates back to the grey Browser Netscape 1.0. Yet, Yahoo! refused to list it under any category. Now the Jodi site is, without doubt, the most interesting and most discussed art website.
So, is it relevant to make a distinction between net art and other art? On the whole, the question is irrelevant. Names for new art forms are just tools; they should be helpful in understanding what we are dealing with on a very basic, prac tical level. In essence, there is nothing wrong with the categorisation of different art forms. Equally, artists who do not describe their work as art can avoid limiting discussions about the relevance and value of their work within an art market.

Temporal Theory
To place net art in the right perspective, art history must be partly rewritten. Too much emphasis has been placed on the commodity status of artworks during this century. Inevitably, this tendency has excluded certain art and artists who do not satisfy related criteria. Perhaps net art offers us the opportunity to rethink the criteria by which art is valued. For instance, one can already distinguish between those artists using, or making work about, technology and electronic media who indulge in utopian fantasies (like the Futurists with their fascist tendencies) – and those whose experiments demystified the media (for example, in the ’60s and ’70s), and the playful approach of present-day artists who handle media with great ease and humour and with less reverence.
Of course, net art is not an easily perceivable object. A lot of art on the net appears very scattered due to its transience and use of multiple media. In order to experience it, one has to be an avid follower of net.culture. Nowadays, there is already a tendency amongst net artists to make their work more lasting, which is possibly a consequence of the increased interest in net art. Artists act and react within an environment. Some net artworks are more or less lost today, like early Jodi works that need to be viewed on older, virtually extinct browsers.2 Some net artists try to be invisible and dissolve into fake identities and ephemeral works.3

Not recognising its uniqueness is obstructing the development of discourse around art on the net, and good opportunities for deeper understanding are missed because the theoretical framework around net art does not keep pace with the artworks. Perhaps art only profits from this obscurity.


Related URLs:
Vuk C´osic´, per se:
nettime archive for ‘funding for the arts’ discussion:
The homework project:
Mr. Net.Art:
Robert Adrian:
Norman White:
Olia Lialina, Agatha Appears: diary:
Recycling The Future:
Strange but good site full of net art links (on a Peruvian server):



1 Tilman Baumgaertel, journalist for both off- and on-line publications, wrote a long article on Telepolis, which is a brave attempt to put the entire history of net art into sequence. The article is available, in German only, at

2 Digital Rain is an example of an early Jodi work that has suffered from the new generation of web browsers

3 For example, Rachel Baker or 'Trina Mould'.


Proud to be Flesh

In the Name of Art (Ewan Morrison and Matthew Fuller on imaginaria and digital art)

Endless Love/hate? On the Occasion of Imaginaria, the UK's first digital arts prize, Ewan Morrison and Matthew Fuller list ten reasons why the art world still sends out mixed signals abou its - digital - other half

in the name of art!In the cultural arena, there's nothing quite like a prize to get people's backs up. From the Booker to the Turner, and now Cap Gemini's Imaginaria Digital Arts prize, prizes never fail to set a well rehearsed communal tirade in motion - against weighted selection procedures, against notions of better and best, against the normalisation of unnamed, unacknowledged and distinctly un-objective criteria for 'quality', and so on. Now that the prizes' function as (cheap) vehicles for marketing and corporate identity is becoming ever more clear, things are getting even noisier, and justly so. Oddly enough, though, in the case of Imaginaria the decibels are rising only partly due to the problems inherent in awarding prizes, or even to a critique of the motivates of the donor organisation, Cap Gemini. The other increasingly dominant note can be accounted for by a welcome return of the 'high' and 'low' arts argument, which seems to have undergone only very slight modification...

Is Digital Art really Art? Can digital artists slug it out with the big boys? As little more than genre artists or craftspersons, do they even deserve an arts prize? Ironically, Imaginaria could prove to be more useful as a catalyst for the exposure of a long-simmering antipathy between two worlds - that of 'digital art' and that of 'contemporary art' or 'art' - and their accompanying discourses than as a catalyst for elevating the status of the dubious category of digital art to a 'serious' cultural practice. We should thank Cap Gemini for this, if nothing else.

With a deep curtsey in the direction of all the platitudes, terminological contradictions, historical omissions, generalisations and false homogenisations that are part of such a venture, we asked Ewan Morrison and Matthew Fuller to hypothesise why it is exactly that the art world both hates and loves digital art.

The art world hates Digital Art. The ICA's show Imaginaria, which sets out to show the best of Digital Art 1997-1998, has helped clarify the reasons why Digital Art is shunned by the art world, and why it will never be accepted into the canon of high art. The following is a list of reasons why 'Digital Art' will not be accepted as fine art.

1. A new art form - give it up! Art is dead. There is nothing more futile than aspiring to the condition of art at a time when giving up art is the only legitimate art form.

Since Baudrillard claimed that art is dead, and continues to exist only as a simulation of its former self, the only way to make art has been to endlessly replay the death of art - to take 'the authentic' and show that it is a simulation. Digital Art seems to start from a misreading of Baudrillard: it attempts to make art out of simulacra and then claim authenticity for its own products.

Within Imaginaria, there is one work which seems to stand as a metaphor for the status of Digital Art within the art world. Anabiosis by Simon Tegala monitors the heart rate of the artist through a screen display. 'Anabiosis' is the medical term for 'revival after apparent death'. Could it be that Digital Art sees itself as a new lease of life within an art world obsessed with death, obsolescence and redundancy? Perhaps suicide could be suggested as a way for this artist to be accepted into the canon of contemporary art.

2. 'Digital Art' does not exist. In proclaiming itself as a new medium, Digital Art has failed to recognise that art is no longer medium specific. Artists now operate across disciplines - text, image, moving image, event, and use whatever tools are at their disposal.

Digital artists are mistaken in thinking that a medium can have inherent properties the realisation of which can be called art. As such it shares a common history with photography. Photography struggled throughout the century to become realised as an art form in its own right. It experienced a period of fine art credibility in the mid-eighties with Jeff Wall, Cindy Sherman and Sherry Levine, all of whom were 'artists who used photography' but none of whom could call themselves 'photographers'. The recent retreat of photography into 'specialist' galleries is a testament to its failure to become an artform 'in itself'.

Digital technology exists. Art exists. Art which uses technology exists. Digital Art does not exist 'in its own right'.

3. Deconstruction. Ever since Jacques Derrida pronounced that the frame (and possibly even the wall) were part of the artwork, art has been emptied of content and been transformed into a self conscious deconstruction of the history and context of art.

Artists no longer make statements, instead they 'critique the medium of representation itself'. To actually communicate without deconstructing the mode of communication that one uses shows a failure to understand the importance of the deconstructive method in contemporary art.

So-called digital artists are just too damned excited by the infinite possibilities of the medium's potential for new representation to engage with any meaningful discourse on the subject of its own limits. Digital Art does not start from the premise that language has to be taken apart; instead it is at the relatively unsophisticated stage of 'inventing' its own language. Digital Art has got to reach the limits of its own potential, roll over and die, before the post-mortem can begin.

4. Anti-teleology. The future is not a better place, as Hegel, Marx and Darwin claimed. There is a strong anti-Hegelian thrust in post-modern art which manifests itself as a distrust of the idea of 'progress' and the belief that 'the new' has positive value in itself. The notion that the future is leading us somewhere, and that technology is the tool for the emancipation of society, has been abandoned due to the failure of the modernist technological utopia and its inversion in the Holocaust, to colonialism and to the failure of teleological projects such as communism, humanism and feminism. This is why digital artists are often accused of 'techno-fascism' by their critics. The inherent technological utopianism of Digital Art is irresponsible, naive and dangerous. Contemporary art, in contrast, is going nowhere - and proud of it. It is, after all, safer to mull over the shadows of the past than to be blinded by the brightness of a new future.

5. Foucault's critique of technology. The myth that technology is a 'tool'. Technology always serves the interests of power. Artists get used by technology. Not the other way around.

The horror of the artist/reviewer meeting Imaginaria is that it is technology and science that sets the agenda. Thus, artists fall prey to an agenda which is not theirs, to a set of concerns that they cannot control or limit, and to a set of outcomes (since many works are set up as 'experiments') which are predetermined and not as 'open ended' as the artists would like to think.

6. Heidegger's opposition between art and technology. The debate on art and technology is always prefaced by some reference to Heidegger. For Heidegger, technology keeps humanity from recognising 'being': we deny ourselves when we see the world 'technologically' - that is, as a tool for our own use. Against the evils of technology Heidegger set the virtues of art, through which 'being' expresses itself to us. Heidegger's views on art were dominant in the 50s and have had a lasting impact.

Although very few contemporary artists would support Heidegger's philosophy and its endorsement of the notion of the autonomous individual, the ethically existing subject and the expression of inner truth, the art world continues to distrust technology.

The postmodern rejection of Heidegger should have seen an abandonment of the old opposition between art and technology and paved the way for a reconciliation of the old opposites. However, the result has not been a new belief in the compatibility of art and technology, but the belief instead that both art and technology are equally lacking in an ultimate justification. In this way Heidegger's split is reconciled - through mutual failure.

Imaginaria, a first in the UK for the digital arts, recently started its life in London's Institute of Contemporary Art where the prize was awarded to Alexa Wright for her series "After Image" and the work of runners up Simon Tegala, Simon Robertshaw, Sera Furneaux, Jane Prophet and Cornford and Cross was exhibited alongside hers. Imaginaria TM was conceived by Cap Gemini's Life Sciences Group which financed and organised the project and exhibition together with its partners on the project, the Arts Council of England, FACT and the ICA. Work submitted for the prize had to relate to the theme of the life sciences and have been completed in the past year.

7. Post Duchampian hatred of technique. Since the revival of Duchamp and the death of painting, art which requires any form of technical skill has been devalued to the lowly status of mere craft. The ready-made has taken the place of the well designed or expressive object. Anything can be a ready-made - a feature film by someone else or an ashtray teaming with cigarette butts. The intention behind the ready-made is not just to reject technical skills but to insult the notion of committed endeavour, purposeful action or virtuosity.

Thus a work like Technosphere V2 by Jane Prophet, in which a graphically designed world is undoubtedly the product of immense technical mastery and several years of committed hard graft, can, to a follower of Duchamp, seem like a complete waste of time.

8. The cult of failure. Once the future has been abandoned and belief in the expressive function of art has been rejected, once artists have come to hate the market which supports them, there is one last petty act of rebellion which can keep the artist going: making art which is deliberately banal.

Thus we have seen over the last ten years, the growth of the cult of contemporary artist as heroic failure. Technical inadequacy has been elevated to a virtue. This is not technical naiveté, but deliberate and self-conscious faux naiveté.

The justification for this is clear and has a history dating back through performance art to Dada. Against the mantle of artist as genius, the heroically failing artist says quite simply: "No I will not stand up as a spokesman for humanity - I will instead be deliberately pathetic and banal."

The complexity of these spiralling circles of self-loathing nihilism seems lost on digital artists, who somehow want to aspire to technical virtuosity, style and belief in their own work.

9. Gimmickry. Nothing offends the sensibilities of those who have been raised on a diet of conceptualism and minimalism more than gimmicks and theatricality. There is a good reason for this. Gimmickry always hides something, usually a lack of content, or an inability on the behalf of the artist to deal with the meaning of their work. Digital Art seems to present the artist with an infinite variety of technical gimmicks. As such it should be viewed with suspicion.

Take, for example, Simon Robertshaw's The Order of Things. Eliminate the reference to Foucault, the spooky theatrical lighting, and the trip switch, which activates the video signal when you get close to the viewing surface, and look what you are left with: archive footage of a patient receiving ECT. In its original context the footage was viewed for medical reasons. In a gallery, we are being asked to deal with it in terms of visual pleasure, the thrill of the peep show. Such treatment of this type of material is in poor taste and is an example of an artist becoming seduced by technical gimmicks and being inevitably unaware of the other meanings they are putting out.

10. Distance. Interactive art destroys the objective distance that, since Kant, has been the basic premise for the contemplation of aesthetic experience. In more contemporary terms, Jean Baudrillard has again and again discussed the diminishing of objective distance through digital technology and described the horror that this presents to the Western philosophical tradition - the terrible immediacy, the obscene reciprocity of the virtual experience, the closing down of the gap between observer and object. This, he claims in Kantian style, is the death of aesthetics.

Without objective distance, there is no contemplation; without contemplation, there is no metaphysics. Virtuality and interactivity are the death not just of art but also of culture itself. Interactivity is a vacuum, a self-perpetuating, self-referring, closed circle that coils in on itself. We do not need 'digital interactivity' to see this - it is well enough displayed in 'live TV'. The messages of 'interactive art' and live TV are the same: each is itself. In Imaginaria, Sera Ferneaux's work Kissing is an example of the vacuousness of instantaneous interactive experience.

Ironically, such a work claims to be social - and sociable - but only further opens up the vacuum that exists in social experience. This is the perverse state that Baudrillard predicted: when we are no longer alienated by technology, but share our alienation as a form of pleasure. As Baudrillard pointed out, the 'horror vacui' of this death of the social is invariably presented to us in the guise of a smiling face. In this instance the face is not smiling but kissing, and it is your own face staring back at you. The artwork is no more than an image of the viewer. You are being invited to participate in the collapse of your own culture. Ewan MorrisonXutilityfilms AT btinternet.comX


1. We live in an era in which the dominant mode of politics is systems analysis. Power has been handed over to a series of badly animated white shirt technicians who deliver fault reports and problem fixes that can be answered only with an 'Okay'. All the control and trustworthiness of Norton Utilities is delegated a bunch of frightened useless pilots gibbering out of control at the keyboard of a system they no longer understand. In this context it is essential for artists and others to synthesise an unformattable world.

2. The art world loves digital art because there is a large submerged part of the latter - as of the former - that is invisible to the viewing public and only ever read by interpretative machines. Digital art is an autonomous field with its own opportunities, norms and institutions. It understands that the distinction between the fields is necessary in order to maintain the integrity and thoroughness of both fields. For all artists it is imperative that they maintain the field in which they work as an autonomous sphere. The strength of a specific field can be measured precisely by the degree to which participants recognise the contributions of their peers and therefore develop each other's richness in specific capital. The collapse of a discipline can be measured precisely by the degree to which heterogeneous elements are able to exert force within or upon it.

3. Jeff Koons recently described the patterns produced in the interrelations of basic, repeated units, motifs, forms, colours, in his sculptures constructed of variegated patterns of boxed basketballs as a basic form of artificial intelligence. Mainstream art has already begun to incorporate the terminology and methodologies of digital cultures as a way of talking about itself and finding sympathetic refrains within a wider culture.

4. The art world loves digital art because it reminds the art world of the limits of its knowledge and the wisdom to be found in the open, non-prejudicial contemplation of the unknown. Likewise, it is always useful to have a relatively large amount of the unknown to call upon in the event of a vague legitimation crisis. In the past it has been proven good insurance to have a few unknown things knocking about in the rear. Graffiti, macrame, female artists and other minor genres have all played their part in the past.

5. Large prestigious art museums with marble foyers love web-based art because it implicitly solves some of the problems of distribution for non-gallery-oriented work that were faced comparably by video art. Because the web guarantees at least some kind of circulation, this frees them from the embarrassment of undergoing the rituals which they are forced to undergo on behalf of artists thoughtless enough to produce painting, sculpture or installation.

Given the medium's self-sufficiency, widely promoted, attentively curated exhibitions with all their background manoeuvring, public attention, critical discussion, historicisation machinery, high artists fees, and other negative influences on the pure essence of artistic creation can all be avoided, leaving the work to be safely ignored.

6. For similar reasons, those who are interested in reading Marx without illusions believe that the "Fragment On Machines" in the Grundrisse has important implications for technology and art. Here, Marx suggests that what he terms 'general intelligence' - the general social knowledge or collective intelligence of a society in a given historical period, particularly that embodied in 'intelligent' machines - reaches a decisive point of contradiction when actual value is created more on the basis of the knowledge and procedures embedded into these machines than in simple human labour: thus freeing digital artists from having to exist. Or at least, freeing them from being any less cheap and infinitely reproducible than their work or equipment.

7. The art world loves digital art because someone other than the Royal Society of Portrait Painters has to take the conventions of pictorial representation into the future. Whilst virtual worlds might still be to the mid-nineties what Roger Dean album covers were to the mid-seventies, the onward march of technology will one day surely permit an upgrade-obedient artist to produce a final form of perfection: an utter conformity to perceptual mechanisms whose perspectival instructions permit viewing only by the most perfected of subjects. At this sublime moment being empties in entirety onto a computer and thus perhaps allows isolation on a hard drive to be stored or destroyed.

8. The artist waits in ambush for the unique moments when an unrecognisable world reveals itself to them. They pounce on these little grains of nothingness like beasts of prey. It is the moment of full awakening, of union and of absorption and it can never be forced. The artist never formulates a plan. Instead they balance and weigh opposing forces, flexions, marks, events, distribute them in a sort of heavenly lay-out, always with plenty of space between, always alternating between the heat of integration and the coolness of critical distance, always with the certitude that there is no end, only worlds within worlds ad infinitum, and that wherever one left off, one had created a world.

The sublimation of technique to the advantage of a separate category known as creation is consistent between all sections of art. Programmers, technicians and other people are glad to work hard to make the realisation of the vision of the artist possible. Providing such freedom for the artist is essential because in this way providence always takes victory over ego.

9. Because art that is not solely about content, but that is multiply reflexive, concerned with materials, that is about the lustres and qualities of light, about the tonality of certain gestures, about modes and theatres of enunciation refuses to make a strict separation between creation and technique. Concept and execution fold in and out of each other, blurring the categorical imperatives of rule by the head or by the dead. The most powerful art, digital art, art which is despite itself digital is, regardless of the context which codes it and from which it escapes, derived in this way precisely from hooking into an expanded compositional synthesis.

A multitude of currents of heterogeneity destabilise digital art's status as an autonomous field. Most prosaically this occurs in the production of art that takes the needs of sponsors so to heart that it is indissociable from them. Heterogeneity can also disrupt the autonomy of a field, and thus its internal self-evolving richness, when it comes in the form of interpretation: in lazy journalistic work whose primary concern is the humorous gratification of what it presumes are its audiences' prejudices; in works that are diagrammatically pre-formatted by pre-existing critical criteria; or - most importantly - in works whose relationship with certain flows of words amplifies both.

10. Both fields, art and digital art, attempt to control what art and artists, should do and what they should be called. This is simply as a necessity for their maintenance and development. At the same time, even their own historical emergence is or was dependent on the eventual impossibility of such control. Those moments at which that impossibility is made concrete are what produce artists worthy of the name, as well as those to whom the word means nothing. Paradoxically, this very impossibility is what art and digital art claim as grounding their ability to speak, to be paid attention. It is only when they lividly and completely fail to betray that claim that art becomes worthy of anything but indifference.

Matthew FullerXmatt AT

Proud to be Flesh

Art Is Useless

Vuk Cosic: member of the elite clan of net art’s ‘heroic period’; ascii impresario; lover of lo-technicity; habitué of the European electronic arts conference circuit; staff member at the Soros-funded Ljubljana Digital Media Lab; senior lecturer at the Institute for Paradoxology, Internet, and the Human Emancipation/Enslavement Conundrum; antiquarian dealer in the New; world traveller; multi-linguist and chronic verbalist. Josephine Berry met with him in London this February


Vuk Cosic believes in essences: the originality of the avant garde, the possibility of narrative, the lessons of history, what comprises art’s jurisdiction, the right way to make a coffee or prepare a California roll. In one of his best known net art works, The History of Art for Airports, Cosic compresses thousands of years of art history, from the caves of Lascaux to the net art of Jodi, into a few images of recombinant toilet people interacting with cocktail glasses and other airport fare (eat your heart out Ernst Gombrich!). But if representing thousands of years of art history using airport signs seems like a consummately postmodern gesture you only have to consider, and notwithstanding their irony, how much substance these minimal icons endow their referents with. Stripped of its aura, art history is clad in the uniform of utility, its canonical works whittled down to one-line gags.


Unlike postmodernism’s typically dehistoricising language of pastiche, this account of aesthetics roots each developmental moment within a life world. The life world is primarily constructed through an elaboration of art’s functionality: art in the service of religion, art in the service of the state, art attempting to elude power. These spare images provide dense ideological and temporal diagrams in the manner of a user’s manual of art history. However, this is the kind of manual that shows you how to take something apart and put it back together again without telling you what the thing is intended for in the first place. Cosic paradoxically combines a positivist modernism of means with a postmodern ambivalence of ends – a strategy which finds its natural home in the economically and ideologically contested space of the Internet.

Given the conventional framing of net art in terms of political resistance – an account which almost naturalises its radicalism by associating its virtuality with the resistance to commodification, and its existence within the global specular and financial network with a default media activism – it is interesting to piece together Cosic’s art histories and his attitude to the politics of art: “I like to believe that art is useless. It liberates me from all these worries”. The conjunction of The History of Art for Airports and this comment beg the question: can art be understood as both utilitarian and useless?

But let’s start at the beginning, and in Cosic’s own words:

“I was born in ’66 so that makes me 32 now...I studied archaeology, graduated, used to teach methodology a bit in Belgrade and then I left the country in ’91. At that time I was already writing and editing magazines, and doing political satire and also regular literature...I was doing various art stuff too: texts, collages, land art, some shows. I started working creatively with HTML in ’95 and making in ’96 because that’s when we invented the term.” Cosic draws a direct line between his archaeological training and his acute historical consciousness: “For me it was always important to be fully conscious of the era you live in, it was very important – like in archaeology – to be able to date things, be aware of when and in what kind of context objects were made, or used.” And despite what is said about the loss of historical consciousness being the hallmark of postmodernity, the coincidence of the Internet’s advent and the break-up of the former Yugoslavia must have provided two quite awesome historical developments for someone of Cosic’s archaeological persuasion.

The Yugoslavian experience of passing from dictatorship to civil war may not be an explicit concern in Cosic’s art, but should certainly be borne in mind when considering his stance on the relationship between aesthetics and politics. Talking about a radio play he wrote at the age of nineteen which was pulled on air by a ‘telephone intervention’ from the party headquarters, it is possible to see how an early belief in political art has turned into a purer form of aesthetics.

“And as a young person, of course you went for the toughest points, but I like to compare it to today’s situation because everyone who was active in the political process claimed, even today, that it was a necessary step because it was impossible to live before. But if you look at the reality today, ten years after, there’s not a single place, except for Slovenia maybe, where life is in any way comparable. So that’s weird, and I like to insist on that. It’s terrible, it’s just a redistribution of money and power. Look at Serbia and Croatia – that’s the best example – and Bosnia no comment, Macedonia doesn’t exist really, and so on. But hey, come on, this is politics.”

Growing up in Yugoslavia and feeling that he was at the periphery of cultural production also cultivated Cosic’s strong sense of authentic and derivative artistic styles: “I was always pissed off when they were selling new books and translating literature which was actually written thirty years earlier. Somehow, in our country, there was always this massive delay, and it was reflected in the actual local cultural production...I was never interested in the best Albanian pop art, I was interested in the best pop art...Isn’t it better, I thought as a kid, to actually be at the source and possibly influence the birth or the way that work in this new area is going on.” In discussing this point I could’t help but contrast Cosic’s unequivocal belief in the continued originality of art with Fredric Jameson’s sentencing of art production to the imitation of dead styles lifted from the ‘imaginary museum’ of global culture. Turning the mike back on Cosic: “Maybe aesthetic appropriation does give some kind of a valid output, and I’m not arguing that this should be banned. I’m simply noticing that, according to my temperament, the juiciest work happens the first time around”.

Enter the Internet – a medium within which art had no history, the meta-medium, the vehicle of accelerated cultural and informational cross-pollination, the embodiment of contemporaneity par excellence. Art practice on the Net is ipso facto ‘juicy’, and it is happening within what has well nigh become a signifier of not only the new but the future too. Given the historicity of ‘the new’ however, it is small wonder that Cosic’s work is concerned with looking back at cultural history and carving out its own position within it. Having no desire to go vitrine shopping in the ‘imaginary museum’ of culture, Cosic processes history through computer specific languages and codes such as ASCII, HTML and Java, thereby creating history and style as a referent within the contemporary symbolics of the computer medium. History and future collapse into each other within the computer’s symbolic matrix. Having said that, it is important to note the degree to which ASCII has already accrued a retro appeal and science fiction has become a language of nostalgia. Postmodernism’s refusal of ‘the new’ is what riles Cosic most about this account of cultural logic:

“It’s too complicated to in any way criticise or analyse postmodernism because it’s totally unclear what it is. Are we talking about a practice or a group of people or what? But here we are, I’m looking at the positive effects of the introduction of this ideology. What it did was it levelled the unsustainable pluralism of before, unsustainable for the lazy...I think that absolute freedom of expression or appropriation got institutionalised and canonised and all possible meanderings, all possible developments in a linear history of development, somehow got sanctioned and a priori incorporated into the postmodern point of view. But because of course this point of view says ‘anything goes’ – and I’m not trying to make a caricature out of it – and by saying that anything that will ever be invented falls into the category of ‘everything’, then of course you’ve appropriated all future creativity. Just at the level of rhetoric, I think, you have sort of made a bad friend of posterity. I think the term ‘net art’ is one of those problems where postmodernism already includes it a priori. Before me or Alexei [Shulgin] moved a single tag in HTML we were already part of that movement, or group or era. Just because it’s so loosely defined, and it says ‘everything’.”


Here we stumble upon the enigma of Cosic’s relationship to the Internet. The Internet is at once a perfect reification of the velocity, specularity and virtuality of postmodernity and at the same time the place where something ‘happens for the first time’. It offers an opportunity for originality within the site of optimum reproducibility, and the site of resurgent history in the flattened space of historical amnesia. But if Cosic is undeterred by what has come to be seen as the historical constructedness of the concept of originality, his historical sense of how to market originality is acute:

“I think it is very logical that the old guys who were doing early video art insisted that they were video artists, and not just artists who were interested in a new toy. They insisted really seriously, and because of that there was a whole eco-system around them and their work. And maybe in a similar way, we are slowly developing an eco-system around net art. People are writing their PhDs about net art, and we have net art critics – an eco-system.”

And, in almost complete contradiction to the early utopian accounts of net art in which it was claimed – perhaps more by the critics than the artists themselves – to transcend the commodifying and etiolating processes of the market, Cosic states:

“I think simply that it’s not the massive desire of museums to maintain prestige that’s going to draw net art into the collections successfully. It’s more the conformism on the side of the artists, who are going to create technically commodifiable pieces or a model for the accommodation of net art within the museum situation. So it is interesting to observe net artists’ ambitions as the driving force behind this process of commodification. Simply, some of us have no problem with this. What can we do? I myself look at this as the only thing that I do, and interestingly enough my mother’s capital knows limits.”

“There is some type of illusion of virginity that used to exist earlier on in what I call the ‘heroic period’ – a term that Olia [Lialina] is using also – that was a time when what we did was known almost only to us, and that was a time when whoever you encountered that had anything to do with net art usually was also a practitioner because nobody else was interested. So those were the good old days, two years ago, who remembers when? But in the process, all these very nice offers you can’t refuse started popping up and it’s not easy, but it’s not a world premier either – it’s biblical. There’s a school of thought – and the nettime mailing list is one of the places in this world where you can often encounter people who believe in it – that money shouldn’t exist, that all human labour should be done for free and exchanged for services; err I do your website and you give me a bucket of beer. But somehow it’s a problem that it’s impossible to imagine a human being or a net artist who doesn’t interface with any of the networks and infrastructures that surround you, like economy, streets, public space, private space. Every instance of interaction with those systems is a loss of this same virginity that is being defended with the claims like ‘net art should not be sold’, which of course makes it very ugly. But how do you think you got your first Sex Pistols record? Because they didn’t want to sell it to you? Still it worked, most of the aesthetics and qualities remained – I repeat most, because of course something does happen. Unfortunately it’s a necessity, but what can I do?”

Does Cosic regard the potential of the Internet for artists to take distribution and sales into their own hands as an attractive option?

“What I like to think is that it’s simply helping artists by giving them a much better negotiation position than, say, video artists. This again is a pragmatic, strategic viewpoint that should perhaps never be uttered. A video artist could blackmail his gallerist maybe by saying that he has full control over the production, but the gallerist could also tell him to fuck off because the gallerist still owned the means of distribution. Nowadays, if you are an online artist, you control all of it and in a way put the guy in a tight corner, because really he’s not empowering you or in any way giving your work exposure that it doesn’t already have...And yes, I would like to have a show at Stedelijk because when Stedelijk moves their machine of promotion it will do miracles to distribution, and that shows on the log of my server.”

At last we arrive at the crunch question: “So what is politically radical about net art?”

“Some artists use up the medium very well.” says Cosic, “I consider my copy of the Documenta website a very political act, but of course within the art system. This is a relatively clear example of a political gesture, but nevertheless I still haven’t seen a really political-political net artwork.”

Cosic’s definition of a political art effectively turns it into an oxymoron: “Political art is art about politics, it’s not politics”, and further states that net art is in no way “changing reality”. Cosic is also unromantic about the power structure of the Internet: “It is easy to identify US involvement with the Internet simply as an imperialistic gesture and as a prelude to Internet 2.0 which will all be about commerce and somehow the US already is the hub of all communication. What’s it called? The Theory of Information, you know Roman Jakobson and all those old guys. It’s folk lore basically; whoever owns the channel owns the content, period. It was applied to some earlier communication systems because the anecdote is from the 30s, and it is applicable now because the Internet is working on broadcast principles, especially with this shift which everyone is predicting to cable systems which are broadcast systems. And the many-to-many model even now isn’t really working because you are connected or your server is connected to only one upstream server, not to many many points. This upstream system makes you very vulnerable because that nuclear bomb from the old story about how the Internet was made kills you very well.”

As with the condensation of art history into terse airport signs, Cosic is also able to reduce the elaborate relations between the Internet, power and net artist into a comically potent image: “To put it simply, I think that Bill Gates has a button under his pillow on which it says ‘Internet on/ Internet off’. That’s where my work has anything to do with that power.”

For Cosic then, the Internet would seem to provide the opportunity for art to extend its internal discourse on the basis of its formal and technical qualities. In this space of media, economic, political and artistic convergence, art remains as it ever was – a developmental process whose moments of originality are intimately linked to and yet independent from the wheel of social change. Politics and society are the block upon which the form of art is hammered out, but the two remain unalloyed.

I ask whether he believes that art’s autonomy is essential to the maintenance of its ‘artness’.

“It’s a beautiful thing to try. For instance, that would be nice. I prefer to do that than to change society. You can see me doing that in my use of, say, lo-tech which I can misuse properly, and that for me is a sign of ‘artness’ because something is being used in a way that the engineer didn’t intend it to be used. Whereas you have all these artists following hi-tech and trying to be posh but actually it’s only selling equipment. As an artist you’re only falling within the boundaries of the imagination of an engineer if you’re working with an off-the-shelf product. So this is where I’m looking at ‘artness’ as freedom.”


Josephine Berry: xjosie AT metamute.comx

Vuk Cosic: []

Proud to be Flesh

King of Code

Interactivity. Social engagement. Cybernetics. Dialogue. Galleries-as-clubs. Sixties tower blocks. Smart clothing. Bandwidth Reality. Art on the Graphic User Interface… You could be forgiven for thinking these terms were stripped from yet another mailing list on art and technology hatched in the last five minutes. In fact, they all describe the work of artist Stephen Willats which has recently returned to prominence with a flurry of exhibits at Laure Genillard, the Whitechapel and Royal College of Art galleries. An interview by Josephine Berry & Pauline van Mourik Broekman.

Since the early 1960s, Willats has repurposed system-based theories in the social context - initiating multi-media art and design projects everywhere from suburban tennis clubs and public galleries to inner city housing estates. Fusing cybernetic models, an authorial death-wish and an enduring commitment to participatory politics, his work is poles apart from the media-friendly individualism of the yBa era. But, tempting as it is to attribute the renewed interest in his work to the rise of socially responsible product on the modern art taste-index, its context and implications are far wider: in a world in which horizontal communication structures are being hardwired on global proportions and social problems tend increasingly to beget technological solutions, his experiments with self-organising systems are instructive.

The scientific inspiration, apparent rationalism and political contradictions of Willat's work make its investigations in terms of classic net debates irresistible. So surrounded by the steady ticking of his studio's many clocks, the conversation between Willats and Mute opened up some of the following questions: To what extent can models lifted from the 'hard' sciences work their magic in the social sphere? Can socio-structural open-endedness be engineered? Are there forces controlling so-called 'open systems' and, if so, is resistance futile? Betraying a long love-hate relationship with art, his answeres turned on the mutable question of the cultural model and what it - in contrast to its scientific and technological equivalents - might achieve.

PB: Can we begin by talking about the Drian Gallery, where you worked in the late 50s? You have described this as a formative experience in terms of wanting to generate a different model of how art could work.

Well, it was a strange situation because I came to work in this art gallery from the world outside and it was an unimaginable leap of reality really. I found myself working in what was at that time a very avant-garde gallery environment and hadn’t come with any kind of lumber or been to art school or anything like that.

It quickly became apparent to me that no one ever went to the gallery except those who were already involved. It was a kind of capsule, really. This enabled me to have plenty of time to dream about different speculative models of how things could be. We have these moments of insight, and in my case I remember we were showing this artist called Agam — an Israeli constructivist whose work incorporated slats of colour that, as you moved across them, changed. They stimulated me to imagine that there could be quite another relationship of an artist to a work of art, because implicit in the work was the audience.

This led me on to set up a lot of diagrammatic models in ’58/’59 which postulated that instead of the audience coming along and finding objects of certainty — icons of emulation — in a sort of passive, almost awe inspired way, they came into what I described at the time as a ‘random variable’. It was task orientated; they were part of the creation of the work, of the meaning of the experience. The word I think I used at the time was ‘relativity’ — the relativity of perception and meaning. Another artist, Kosice, a Marxist Argentinian constructivist who made constructions with water which you could move and turn around, stimulated in me the idea of task orientation and tactile involvement.

JB: What about other kinds of post-studio art? Anything from Andy Warhol’s factory to Robert Smithson’s land art which tried, with very different means, to create something that exceeds that oppressive model of the artist, and which often used industrial technology to transform the mode of production to break with this older regime of meaning?

SW: London in the late 50s was quite provincial, and I remember quite clearly the first exhibition of American big painting at the American Embassy — these were devastating injections of culture from remote places and had a completely fundamental effect on many artists. Casting off the shackles of the ’50s was a rebellious experience and, indeed, there was this term, ‘Angry Young Man’, which seemed to sum up that general feeling. By the ’60s another kind of feeling had come about which was much more optimistic and which could see the possibility of another social realm altogether, another sort of ideological-political existence. An important aspect was the idea that nothing was the preserve of any one person. The idea that some scientist was involved in a discipline that he could keep hegemony over was anachronistic. People felt that they were in a free flow of information, and this was very fertile. Other people felt that they could be artists as well. The models we are talking about didn’t really become influential — in my opinion — until about ’63.

PB: Did you feel an affinity with these models when you encountered them?

SW: I found, and continue to find, myself at odds with most American political thought. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the vast resources available to American practice, and the kinds of cultural domination that it seemed to want and, in fact, got. I saw most of these models which were being represented in a highly verified and supported manner for what they were — a kind of determinism. They wanted emulation, what I was talking about was contextualism. I certainly fell out with artists — especially American ones — who thought that great art was universal. It was complete bullshit — all art is contextually dependent on social relations and agreement.

JB: So if there were any artists that you looked to at that time, who were they?

SW: Although people knew about my practice, it was seen as quite marginal. I found people like Gordon Pask and the people around Systems Research as well as Roy Ascott and his Ground Course really stimulating. In ’65 I stopped calling myself an artist and called myself a ‘conceptual designer’ with the specific purpose of terminating what I saw as the history of art and moving on. My idea was to infiltrate the infrastructure of society and deal with accepted behaviours and norms, and transform them. So I thought that what I could do with clothing, for instance, was to develop the idea of self-organising clothing — you could alter your relationship to other people in a process of exchange.

JB: So why did you go back to calling yourself an artist?

SW: Because nobody understood what I was talking about, basically (laughs). It was quite lonely.

JB: But, why work with art at all? Were you harnessing art as an agent of transformation — something that operates interstitially — between disciplines, for example — and non-instrumentally?

SW: Well, we wanted to take the fundamentals of what we felt an artist might be and relate this to what we thought was relevant to the social landscape. In ’65, for example, I was working at Ipswich with Roy Ascott on his course, and had a group of 20 students for a whole year for whom I had to develop my own program. The students came from Ipswich and Suffolk and hadn’t been, shall we say, conditioned in the history of art — the same way I hadn’t. We had the idea that we would develop collaborative practice, that the artist as sole author would not exist, and that all art would be social expression. The students operated as a collective and we decided we’d look at what would happen if we started from zero as artists: how would we develop a practice in relationship to the social situation? We had to look at basic ideas about audience, context, language, meaning, procedures of intervention, things like that. The group divided itself into four and each group developed a different strategy for a different audience group. The idea was that theory had to precede practice.

We took a housing estate on the outskirts of Ipswich and attempted to start from fundamentals — what language we were going to use. We’d have to start with their language, and we thought that the context should be their context. Instead of trying to vary their behaviour so that they came to the art gallery, why not place the work within their existing behaviours?

The students set up a means of retrieving this information from the audience group through a doorstep questionnaire looking at restricted language codes, restricted visual codes, speech and so on. Another group was looking at priorities and behaviours. Out of this they formulated a strategy that turned out to be a set of signposts for the neighbourhood telling people where things were.

PB: How was this project related to the cybernetic systems of feedback that you were interested in at the time? And notions like consensus, collaboration and competition that figured in computer-based research, for instance in war games?

SW: Well, it wasn’t just cybernetic models. It was a whole host of different disciplines which seemed to be parallel — information theory, communication theory, learning theory. They were interesting to me because they provided models which were conceptual but which also stimulated practice. I didn’t see that they were slavishly to be copied or that their goals were necessarily my goals, but they could be appropriated.

JB: Do you think that the methods you use to create this kind of communication and interaction are neutral? You often use that word in association with the idea that you want to create a ‘neutral interface’ or something which doesn’t overdetermine the process that then unfolds. But do you think that neutrality can be achieved in any method? You’re using, as you mentioned, information theory, cybernetics and so on, and those are coming out of a scientific practice which has been critiqued, at least latterly, as existing within the Enlightenment project, not a relativist project, as something that deals in empirical truths.

SW: No, I think that, certainly in the case of Ipswich, the outcome was sort of unknown at the beginning — it was open-ended. The construction of response is so dependent on experience. When I say that the thing is or isn’t neutral it really depends on intention. You could say that everything is neutral and nothing is neutral, depending on the position you wish to take. In a way, one means the same as the other philosophically; you can find yourself in a sort of circuit. But the intention was that it was an open frame, so in that sense it was neutral. When I say a system or a work is ‘neutral’ I actually mean that the outcome is not determined — that it doesn’t have a preferred view. But of course, the work itself is not neutral because it actually is its own message. When you engage with the work, it brings you into a kind of model of social relationships which are built around exchange and self-organisation — this is what I meant by being neutral. It isn’t meant in any kind of scientific manner — you’re getting confused between the way I’m operating as an artist, and the foundation of science and cybernetics.

PB: Can we go back to the agreement and consensus issue? When manifest on a larger scale, consensus is often associated with conservative or oppressive social paradigms. Are there glass ceilings for consensus acting productively, and how can we differentiate consensus from agreement here?

SW: I think you have to be careful about the way that you perceive these models operating. The notion of agreement implies within it a recognition of the complexity of the other person, whereas consensus doesn’t necessarily do that.

PB: Maybe we should look at this through an example of your work, say the project you initiated in Holland during 1993 Democratic Model where people tried to picture an ideal space?

SW: Well, this particular work was actually about the formation of society. I saw that the basic element, a sort of building block, within society was the small group. If you look at the dynamics within the small group you can infer larger structures — there is a tendency towards agreement; within a small group there’s the psychological possibility of the recognition of complexity within others — and a process of exchange.

We invited 32 people who had never met each other before and represented different roles in Dutch society to come together to this community room in Den Haag on Saturday morning. I didn’t know the people in advance — my friends assembled them. They were given a task, which was to externalise an implicit representation of themselves within an ideal space. By answering a question you externalise what is implicit. You encode it. I see the act of ordering something on a sheet of paper as reinforcing the process of externalisation to then feed it back to the self. It is a fundamental element of the creative process, which is why I’ve used the question so often in my work.

People spent half an hour or so drawing. At the end of it I blew a whistle and we threw a dice which paired people together. It seemed that two people were the basis of a cooperative structure. They were then given a larger piece of paper on which they had to try to make a joint space. They could do this in various ways, but it meant that they entered into a period of negotiation. At this point everything was fine. I threw a dice again and we had four people — two groups of two coming together.

If we look at conformity and compliance, there’s a tendency to want to reduce the complexity of your own role by compliance. But within a group of four people they were all really willing to open themselves up to a group, because that group was based on a sort of agreement, not consensus per se. This principle seemed OK to eight, but when it got to sixteen it became impossible. At that point, all kinds of complex situations came to the forefront. Some people sought to try to exert influence, which they hadn’t done before; some tried to organise the group; some people tried to break away from the group; different things started to happen. But the basic thing was that the group became unstable and upset with itself. And the reason they became upset with themselves was because they’d lost the feeling of society that they had before.

JB: But don’t you think that most radical social transformation does need to entail friction? I’m thinking about historical revolutions, and the moments in which transformation is most dramatically figured or realised — albeit only temporarily, I would also argue.

SW: Well, no I don’t agree. I’d say that you were involved in very radical transformations of the infrastructure of society and of cognition of the self, but that this has happened in a totally implicit way — evolution. It is interesting to note that in the late ’50s and early ’60s we had a situation in which the development of philosophical models had got beyond the technology. It led to a point in the late ’60s where science and art became so engaged with each other that science became political. People started to want to take responsibility for the ramifications of their own actions. So, by the 1980s we have a revolution taking place in the infrastructure without anybody knowing. The implications of what was being thought about in the late ’50s is really beginning to effect the world we live in now. But it’s not a revolution based on conflict — it’s come about through evolution in the infrastructure. And when we talk about technology it’s just a vehicle, a medium of exchange. It embodies different possibilities which you can open yourself up to.

JB: But the technological capacity of a society has huge ramifications in its culture and politics wouldn’t you say? McLuhan, for example, talks about how the book was indispensable to colonialism because it meant that an identical message could be duplicated infinitely, and could propagate national culture within a colonial setting.

PB: And if we take the technology of the Net, its multi-nodal, ‘interactive’ architecture is viewed as having a democratising potential. Has its development played out in as empowering or democratising a way as you’d once hoped, or do you see the flipside?

SW: Well, I think you mustn’t get confused between agreement and democracy. I mean, democratic processes aren’t necessarily based on agreement, they’re based on acquiescence. We go along with the majority verdict. Agreement is not that; agreement is about agreement.

PB: But, in the same way that you saw engineering culture build something evolutionarily, do you see a process of empowerment going on, now that that something is reaching a serious level of massification?

SW: Of the individual? No, I don’t think it’s got anywhere near that point. If you’re talking about the relationship of the person to the terminal and the representation of reality on the screen, it’s so encoded as to represent within itself a realm of meaning. I think the point is that the person is psychologically detached in referring that realm of meaning to the reality surrounding them. This means that people can make decisions on the interface that they can distance themselves from in reality, and that’s an extremely interesting effect. In my work in the 1970s I developed a thing called a Symbolic World. The idea here was to encode reality and create a psychological distance so the viewer could engage more freely in a kind of remodelling. It’s not dissimilar to the representation of reality through the screen.

PB: Could tell us a bit about your recent show at the Laure Genillard Gallery, ‘Macro to Micro’?

SW: Macro to Micro came out of a similar desire as the work in Ipswich from 1965. It seems necessary at the moment to set up models of practice that can be discussed. When I say discussed I mean in a way that is useful to the development of the way we think about art practice. I wanted to represent something about the complexity of the language of the contemporary world, and show that we construct order from what we almost randomly experience. This also comes into the idea of exchange and that of the work of art not being the product of any one person — whether we like it or not.

To start, I invited a group of actors who sort of specialised in disturbing normality. I told them my thinking turned around constructing four events, with one leading on to the other in time. Touring around West London, I had come across a shopping parade in Hayes with a very wide pavement which formed a natural kind of stage. The actors went along there and I left them to it really, saying I didn’t really want to know what they were going to do, but that they would be recorded. With the documentary group, we set up the idea of a concept frame — a purely artificial device to break down this multi-channelled picture of reality — and made various boxes, of which each person elected one to document. We used Super 8 cameras primarily, because they’re informal devices and provide an interesting way of recording reality.

The event itself was quite interesting: at 12.15 on a Saturday morning the documentary group crossed the road in Hayes and started filming all kinds of people, but they soon found out who the actors were and they followed them along these four events. Then there was a series of workshops over three months where the whole group edited the material collectively. The selected frames were then made into one still and printed up on a laser printer.

The ‘macro to micro’ in this sense is that there’s no ending and no beginning to it. It’s presented in the gallery space as a sort of multi-frame piece of information from which the viewer constructs their own order. So, it was meant to illustrate certain kinds of ideas about divestment, which I think is a very important model for the future of culture, and in a way is very ideological because it goes completely against the idea of the sole authorship and the elevation of the individual in terms of culture.

JB: Why did you decide to start using your name again in 1973? Was it just a practical means of survival?

SW: Yes, just practical. I felt that the idea had to dominate over the culture of the personality. And in that respect, I always felt that I was at completely opposite end of the practice from someone like Daniel Buren, whose name you’d hear and then each work was like a variation on the same thing. There were works developed by large numbers of people; it was just the idea of the work. So you had the Social Resource Project for Tennis Clubs, and that was it. Even with Metafilter, it’s only ‘Metafilter’. But when I started to try to intervene in the institutional process it wasn’t possible to maintain that. I always retained the name of the idea above the name of the artist. So instead of the name of the artist being big, it’s the idea that’s big — there’s no particular fetish about the authorship of the work.

JB: But it’s remembered as a Stephen Willats, or goes down in archives under Stephen Willats.

SW: So it might do, but that’s not the point. The point is the practical way in which it operated as a tool to work with, rather than as an emulative icon. So this is the difference in the paradigm of the work itself. These works were initiated by myself and that’s their actuality. They wouldn’t exist otherwise; you’re in a tautology there.

JB: From the way I observe your work I can’t see a totalistic political critique — say Marxist. Your work is definitely very left-wing, but it doesn’t employ a pre-existing political language. I’m interested in knowing whether your work advances something like a Grand Unifying Theory or whether it’s opposed to that idea

SW: Well, I don’t think it’s either. You can’t approach it that way. I think that the work is ideological in the way that it has an idea of the future. It proclaims a notion of what the future could be. And if you think of the future implied in the works from the early ’60s, for instance, we can say that the ramifications of these works have been taken up by what’s happening around us at the moment. The problem I had with a lot of the artists from the ’70s was that they became deterministic in their political outlook and this actually constrained them.

The reality of the situation we’re in is that it’s fluid, but that doesn’t mean to say that you lose track of your ideological position. I’m thinking with my work about the notion of transformation, the transformation of reality into self-organising structures which actually empower the notion of the individual. Now this is not a sort of dogma, but in my practice it’s a way of externalising my view into the reality of the culture around me. But I don’t want to take on the harness of any particular political dogma. Going back to your interest in engineering and cybernetics, one thing that was interesting about that period is the notion of being able to set up radical models of society without political dogma. I think that that was the interesting outcome of those debates. So I’ve always maintained a position of being independent of any particular dogma.

JB: Would you say that in comparison to other kinds of subcultural groups artists aspire to a greater reception, to making transformations far and beyond their own context. Unlike perhaps subcultural groups looking to exclude or operating on the basis of an exclusion from ‘normal society’.

SW: What I mean by ‘normal society’ is how society is projected by itself. So, there’s a sort of bandwidth of behaviour that is perceived as being normal. But we all know that there’s no such thing as normality. I want to address a bigger audience than just the primary people I work with. My motive for inviting the art world is to open up the nature of art practice. I think it’s very important that artists get beyond the idea of sole authorship.

JB: So in a way that’s your subcultural group — other artists.

SW: I’m in the business of trying to influence the cultural direction and transforming the future of culture. And certainly moving towards the idea of more complex and interactive structures within relationships which are ultimately self-organising. These are ideas which I think are very relevant to the current moment.

Josephine Berry & Pauline van Mourik Broekman <josie AT><pauline AT>

Proud to be Flesh

Systems Upgrade (Conceptual Art and the Recoding of Information, Knowledge and Technology)

As work begins on a new theory of value within an economic landscape shaped by ‘immaterial production’ and ‘immaterial goods’, new theories of art’s role are also emerging. This shift can be tracked from the more narrowly systems-based transformation of industrial production – via information technologies, cybernetics, communication and information theory – in the 1960s, to the integration of less quantifiable ‘assets’ such as knowledge, creativity and imagination. Likewise, culture plays an ever more functional role within postmodern production. Within this newly acculturated and informatic economy, it is necessary to ask whether an autonomous art practice is still possible. Mediated by business practice and principles, the membrane between the state, culture and other sectors of the economy has also started to look rather porous. As the first in a new series of articles addressing the historical background and contemporary role of art in the knowledge economy, Mute is proud to publish the introduction to the third part of Michael Corris’ forthcoming book Invisible College: the social dimensions of Anglo-American conceptual art. Here, Corris gives an account of artists’ engagement with systems theory, information theory, cybernetics, and electronic technology. During the heyday of government sponsored research into these areas, artists began to adopt and adapt them with very different intentions in mind. But, true to the cybernetic principle of ‘feedback’, these adaptations can also be said to have helped popularise the new technoscientific thinking – for better and for worse.

This article examines how some Conceptual art recoded the scientistic theories that helped drive the technological revolution of the 1960s as an aesthetic ideology. At the outset, we should note the intense interaction during the 1950s and 1960s between technology and all forms of culture and visual art. The emergence during the 1960s of Conceptual art coincided with a tremendous surge in economic activity in north America and western Europe that ‘seemed powered by technological revolution.’<1> John F. Kennedy’s ‘new frontier’ and Harold Wilson’s ‘white heat of technology’ were both images meant to denote and exploit the appeal of technological innovation in the mind of the electorate.<2>

Writing on the period of post-war prosperity that originated in 1945 and reached its peak around 1970, historian Eric Hobsbawm offers three observations on the distinctive social and economic effects of this technological leap: firstly, the utter transformation of everyday life in the industrialised nations and, to a lesser extent, in the developing world; secondly, the new centrality of ‘Research and Development’ (R&D) to the economic growth of the industrialised nations; and thirdly, the structural effect on the labour market of the new, capital-intensive technologies. It is this latter feature that prompted the period’s technocrats to dream of ‘production, or even service, without humans’ and to speculate on the prospect of human beings as ‘essential to such an economy only in one respect: as buyers of goods and services.’<3> Even though the ‘restructuring of capitalism and the advance in economic internationalisation’ are probably more central to our understanding of this broad period of economic expansion, the image and promise of technology undoubtedly captured the intellectual, popular, and artistic imagination of the West, as well as guaranteeing its continued economic superiority. In the United States, the development of technology and the dissemination of the technocratic dream was fuelled, on the one hand, by the growing power and influence of corporations and, on the other, by the ‘military-industrial complex.’ The marriage of Cold War policy and private sector enterprise sustained America’s military advantage and guaranteed a steady flow of resources to support appropriate technological developments. Alongside the many programs initiated to develop weaponry and communications systems, there arose a parallel stream of research funding that was made available to disciplines such as linguistic theory and pure mathematics. These fields of theoretical research were the targets of strategic State funding, which aimed to steer the production of knowledge into avenues that might yield results applicable to the future development and production of high-speed electronic computing machines, electronic communications systems, exotic new weapons, powerful information processing programs, and encryption devices. Many of the innovators in the field of game theory, information retrieval, modal logic, and transformational grammar pursued initial research under the aegis of this rich stream of State and NATO-sponsored funding.

During the 1960s such theories dominated the intellectual landscape and quickly became the object of social and political controversy. Systems theory in particular maintained a strong hold on the 1960s imagination. Typically associated with the aims and objectives of the military or corporate management, systems theory was first promoted in a generalised form ‘capable of addressing patterns of human life’ by the mathematician and inventor of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener. Cybernetics – conceived by Wiener during the 1940s in the context of military research on improved radar systems – is essentially a theory of control based on the concept of the feedback loop, whereby a system is in a state of dynamic monitoring and adjustment of its performance with respect to a specified goal. The biological analogue to cybernetics is homeostasis, the processes through which an organism is able to maintain itself in a state of dynamic equilibrium with its environment. According to Wiener, ‘the physical functioning of the living individual and the operation of some of the newer communication machines are precisely parallel in their analogous attempts to control entropy through feedback.’<4>

The concept of a ‘system’, which became part of the lingua franca of the 1960s, was not destined to remain the exclusive property of a technologically-minded elite of engineers, scientists, and mathematicians. In the hands of intellectuals, artists, and political activists it would become a key ideological component of the ‘cultural revolution’. It is generally agreed, for example, that Robert Smithson’s obsession with inorganic molecular structures (crystals), geological processes, time, and entropy – the latter being a concept derived from classical thermodynamics but also performing a central role in communication theory – represented a strong cultural challenge to technology’s progressive self-image. The British art critic Lawrence Alloway likened the production, distribution, and consumption of art to a non-hierachical network, ‘a shifting multiple goal coalition’, and supported his claim by citing the work of industrial psychologists and sociologists.<5> Systems theory also figured prominently in the student revolt of the 1960s, prompting historian Howard Brick to declare that ‘by the late 1960s students in American universities and colleges easily grasped the concept of a ‘system.’<6> In the volatile atmosphere of confrontation with the Establishment, the term itself – which simply denotes the ‘orderly processes at work in any complex array of multiple, interacting variables, be it a living organism, an environmental milieu, or a computing machine’ – was to be demonised. The meaning of the term ‘system’ was highly politically inflected and its application to the flux of human affairs or the natural environment was strongly contested. Despite its origins in the field of weapons research, social activists, environmentalists, student radicals, and artists appropriated the term and used it effectively to polarise social discourse. Oppositional or counter-cultural uses of system theory typically emphasised a consciousness of ‘connections’ among diverse social problems’ indicating that ‘the flaws in society were fundamental, endemic – not incidental.’<7>

What was art’s response to a set of technocratic theories, ideologies, and new structures of intellectual production (such as the ‘think tank’) that seemed to be committed collectively to the transformation of people into objects of ‘technical and administrative measures’? <8> Not all artists believed that such knowledge and technology was indelibly tainted. In the visual arts, some practitioners were more inclined to celebrate technology and to read the growing influence of the social sciences as a sign of society’s rapid modernisation, a future imagined as ‘a technologically utopian structure of feeling, positivistic and ‘scientistic.’<9> These artists sought to emphasise how the enlightened application of these new social and scientific theories – particularly semiotic theory, whose dream ‘had been the quest for inter-disciplinary forms, which would cross different types of human forms of expressions’<10> – could achieve socially progressive ends. Roy Ascott established his innovative ‘Ground Course’ at Ealing College in 1961 in the hope that a reorientation of art education informed by cybernetics, semiotics, and other theories of communication could form the basis for a new visual sensibility. The enthusiasm displayed by Ascott for graphic notations as diagrams of a ‘new space’ had its counterpart in the American field of Conceptual art, which Robert C. Hobbs characterises as the aestheticisation of knowledge and the fetishisation of ‘quasi-scientific’ (objective) modes of display. <11> In 1967, the British artist Stephen Willats argued that intellectual resources drawn from ‘modern information areas’ such as psychology and communication theory would enable the artist to ‘look at such important issues as audience composition’, and the relation between the concerns of art and those of its audience. Willats envisaged a practice of art that ‘structured function as an integral part of the environment.’ <12> In 1971, he wrote that ‘the development of homeostatic, self-regulating, self-assessing systems has been one of the most important conceptual developments in respect of behavioural structures, for it is in the nature of these systems that they are capable of determining their own structural relationship between input and output.’ <13> A more radical example of the adoption by artists of strategies and intellectual resources usually found in the cultural space of corporations and government policy institutes is the reconfiguration of the ‘think tank’ and the modern corporate figure of the management consultant by British artists John Latham and Barbara Stevini, co-founders in 1966 of the Artists Placement Group. <14>

>> Vito Acconi, Following Piece, Activity, 23 days, varying durations. New York City ("Street Works IV," Architectural League of New York), John Gibson Commissions, Inc. 1969.Choosing a person at random, in the street, any location, each day. Following him, wherever he goes, however long or far he travels. (The activity ends when he enters a private place - his home, office, etc.)

Others took a more benign approach to the concept of a system, using it to denote a set of parameters or rules that can impart the image of structure and motive to artistic practices that are invariably performative and contingent. Such work was constituted through moments of social encounter and interaction, rather than through the disposition of materials. The concept of a template or schema – already familiar to Conceptual art, as the work of Dan Graham, Sol LeWitt, Hanne Darboven, Douglas Huebler, and On Kawara attests – provided an armature on which to organise a variety of social scenarios, as in Lee Lozano’s Dialogue Piece initiated in 1969, or some of the early projects of Vito Acconci. Acconci, not ordinarily associated with systems theory as such, was interested in the late-1960s in organising performances that would place himself into a pre-existing situation or social circuit, ‘something that already existed.’ <15> Acconci’s contribution to the Museum of Modern Art’s 1970 exhibition ‘Information’ was a structured performance, which the artist described as a ‘mail system-museum-exhibition-system.’ Other works by Acconci, such as his solitary physical self-improvement performances, display an absurdist caste which links him with those artists who were far more interested in undermining the social authority of systems theory through parody, by pushing the application of a system to the point of absurdity. Systems theory, cybernetics, and game theory were misrepresented and diminished by a strategy of over-generalisation whereby the most banal situations of everyday life would be subjected to isolation, rationalisation, and analysis in a travesty of corporate efficiency or military control. One example is the early work of David Askevold – Three Spot Game (1968), Shoot Don’t Shoot (A Sum Zero Game Matrix) (1970), and Taming Expansion (1971) – which is consciously modelled after a simple game theory decision matrix.

The holistic insight that all systems regardless of size or complexity are interconnected lurks at the heart of systems theory and was mercilessly exaggerated to the point of paranoia in the novels of Thomas Pynchon, such as The Crying of Lot 49 and V. Earlier, Len Deighton’s The Ipcress File – the 1962 literary debut of an ex-Royal College of Art student turned novelist – anticipated ‘the synthesised environment of technological fantasy only so far as the severely bureaucratic, hierarchical and class aspects of British culture would permit.’<16> Even the influential work in America of George Brecht and John Cage – which Robert Morris characterised in the late-1960s as the ‘final secularisation’ of art and systems of chance <17> – may be read as an indictment of technocratic and bureaucratic modalities of control. It was a defiant statement of the poverty of such a world-view, a warning about the hubris of all attempts to overcome indeterminacy, and an encouraging sign that led to the innovation by some Conceptual artists of more explicitly ‘democratically’ structured artworks and situations.

>> Hans Haake. Visitors’ Profile. 10 demographic, 10 opinion questions on current socio-political issues posed to museum visitors. Answers tabulated, correlated, and posted regularly throughout exhibition. Milwaukee Art Center version. 1969-70.

The engagement of Conceptual artists with systems theory, information theory, cybernetics, and electronic technology had a real basis in ideological and social conflict, though at times it seemed to be the result of contingency. Jack Burnham argues that Hans Haacke ‘wanted to reveal the way the world functions on its most essential levels.’<18> Haacke took as his subject matter the totality of all systems, regardless of their nature as physical, biological, or social, although his work before around 1968 concentrated on the first two categories. Haacke’s central artistic strategy has been defined as the ‘production of systems, the interference with and the exposure of existing systems.’<19> He is concerned with the ‘operational structure of organisations, in which transfer of information, energy, and/or material occurs.’<20> Fredric Jameson has likened Haacke’s methodology to that of homeopathy. Jameson writes that ‘Haacke poses the political dilemma of a new cultural politics: how to struggle within the world of the simulacrum by using the arms and weapons specific to that world which are themselves very precisely simulacra.’ <21> Provoked by the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968 and referring to the utility of so-called ‘political art’, Haacke expressed the belief that ‘the production and the talk about sculpture has nothing to do with the urgent problems of our society . . . we must face the fact that art is unsuited as a political tool.’ <22> The artist stressed that ‘any work done with and in a given social situation cannot remain detached from its cultural and ideological context.’ <23>

The challenge launched by Haacke against the ethical constraints imposed on art by a particularly narrow sense of professionalism is enabled, in large measure, by the artist’s embrace of systems theory and systems ‘thinking’. In particular, it is the notion of an ecosystem that is most relevant to Haacke’s projects of the early 1970s, imparting a sense of structure and coherence on works such as 10 Turtles Set Free (1970) and Goat Feeding in Woods, Thus Changing It (1970). Beach Pollution (1970) – a pile of driftwood and other rubbish that had been collected on a Spanish seafront – not only signals Haacke’s concern with environmental issues, but also initiates a dialogue with the anti-formalism of the late-1960s. Visually, Beach Pollution is a work that seems to invite an experience of ‘unmediated physical encounter with matter, an encounter unfettered by language and a priori assumptions’<24> similar to that intended by Robert Morris in his work Threadwaste (1968). Yet, what distinguishes Haacke’s work is not its physical composition as a pile of scavenged rubbish; rather, its conceptual relationship to the exogenous cultural space of the emerging environmental movement. That such a difference is not available to visual inspection, but is constituted through language, marks a significant shift away from the phenomenological claims of Minimalism.

One of the lessons to be drawn from a study of the art of the 1960s and 1970s is that systems analysis, information theory and the like cannot be applied unproblematically to the practice of art. In fact, the contemporary application of systems theory to art, in one instance at least, yields a dramatically different conclusion. I am referring to the work of the sociologist Niklas Luhmann, who describes the domain of art as an operationally closed and self-referential communicative system.* According to Luhmann, art’s purpose, like that of other social-symbolic systems, is communication. But where Luhmann and the 1960s enthusiasts for systems theory in art part company is their respective understanding of the nature of communication in and through art. The artists and critics of the 1960s and 1970s used systems theory pragmatically to facilitate the integration of art and the world; in doing so they risked the disintegration of art. Luhmann uses systems theory analytically to stress the difference between art and the world; a move that risks being mistaken for an attempt to rehabilitate the modernist practice of resistance through negation.

* Thanks to Michael Baldwin and Mel Ramsden for bringing Luhmann’s ‘Art as a Social System’ to my attention.

FOOTNOTES:<1> Eric Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991 (London: Michael Joseph Ltd., 1994), p. 264.<2> Arthur Marwick, The Sixties: Cultural Revolution in Britain, France, Italy, and the United States, c. 1958-c.1974 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 248.<3> Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes, pp. 265-66, 267.<4> Norbert Wiener, The Human Uses of Human Beings (New York: Avon Books, 1954), p. 38.<5> Lawrence Alloway, “Network: The Art World Described as a System,” Artforum XI, 1 (September 1972): 29.<6> Howard Brick, Age of Contradiction: American Thought and Culture in the 1960s (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000), p. 124.<7> Ibid., pp. 124-125.<8> Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (London: Verso Press, 1985), p. 56.<9> David Mellor, The Sixties Art Scene in London, exh cat. Barbican Art Gallery, 11 March - 13 June 1993 (London: Phaidon Press, 1993), p.107.<10> Ibid., p. 112.<11> Robert C. Hobbs, “Affluence, Taste, and the Brokering of Knowledge: Notes on the Social Context of Early Conceptual art,” in Michael Corris, ed., Invisible College: The Social Dimensions of Anglo-American Conceptual Art (forthcoming Cambridge University Press).<12> Stephen Willats, “Statement,” 1967, reprinted in Clive Phillpot and Andrea Tarsia, Live in Your Head: Concept and Experiment in Britain 1965-75 (London: Whitechapel Art Gallery, 2000), p. 161.<13> Stephen Willats,“Behavioural Nets and Life Structures,” The Paper, no. 1, (1971).<14> Michael Corris, “From Black Holes to Boardrooms: John Latham, Barbara Steveni and the Order of Undivided Wholeness,” Art+Text 49 (September 1994)<15> Martin Kunz, “Interview with Vito Acconci About the Development of his Work Since 1966,” in Marianne Eigenheer, ed., Vito Acconci (Luzern: Kunstmuseum Luzern, 7 May - 11 June 1978), unpaginated.<16> Mellor, The Sixties Art Scene in London, p. 110.<17> Robert Morris, “Some Notes on the Phenomenology of Making,” Artforum VIII, 8 (April, 1970).<18> Jack Burnham, “Hans Haacke’s Cancelled Show at the Guggenheim,” Artforum IX, 10 (June 1971).<19> Ibid.<20> Ibid.<21> Fredric Jameson, “Hans Haacke and the Cultural Logic of Postmodernism,” in Hans Haacke: Unfinished Business (New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1986), pp. 42-43. Jameson notes that “such a strategy — even conceived provisionally — has little of the vigorous self-confidence and affirmation of older political and even proto-political aesthetics, which aimed at opening and developing some radically new and distinct revolutionary cultural space within the fallen space of capitalism. Yet as modest and as frustrating as it may sometimes seem, a homeopathic cultural politics seems to be all we can currently think or imagine” (p. 43).<22> Hans Haacke to Jack Burnham, correspondence 10 April 1968.<23> Ibid.<24> James Meyer, Minimalism: Art and Polemics in the Sixties (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), p. 267.

Michael Corris <InvCollege AT> is a senior research fellow in the History of Art and Design at Kingston University.

Proud to be Flesh

Technological Kindergarten

Simon Ford appraises the destructive art of Gustav Metzger, focusing on the often overlooked early use of computer science in his work. Unrealised pieces such as Five Screens with Computer may have been part of the ‘false avantgarde’ of computer art, but did they prefigure some of the concerns of today’s digital art practice?


On 21 January 2003 a crowd of onlookers watched as the 77 year-old artist Gustav Metzger scurried through 100,000 newspapers piled up in the dark basement of T1&2 Artspace, a squatted building in Spitalfields, London. With the newspapers filled with reports on the coming war in Iraq, Metzger’s actions appeared especially charged. Here was a man who, in his own words, had dedicated his life ‘to the task of eliminating war and other social injustices.’[1]

Metzger was born on 10 April 1926 in Nuremberg. His Polish Jewish parents had immigrated to Germany just eight years before. In January 1939 they sent the 12-year-old Gustav, along with a brother, to England as part of the Refugee Children movement. It was just in time. Those members of his family that remained in Germany were subsequently murdered in the Nazi concentration camps. After a brief period living in a commune in Bristol, Metzger decided to become an artist. His studies took him to Cambridge, London, Antwerp, and then back to London where he studied at Borough Polytechnic School under David Bomberg. By this time his experience of fascism in Germany and the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had already provided the foundations for his life-long political commitment: ‘The atomic bomb is really the starting point of my own work. This is the point when I was an art student and I was very conscious that from now on everything was different, including art. From that point, I started to probe the limits of art, of what one could do and what one had to do in relation to society, in relation to helping society so that this couldn’t happen again.’[2]

Metzger’s commitment to the anti-nuclear movement soon became the most obvious manifestation of his opposition to Cold War nuclear proliferation, but it also informed his development of auto-destructive art. Announcing a new form of ‘public art for industrial societies’, Metzger’s first auto-destructive art manifesto appeared in November 1959.[3] His second manifesto, ‘Manifesto Auto-Destructive Art’, appeared in 1960. In it he described ‘man in Regent Street’ and ‘rockets’ and ‘nuclear weapons’ as auto-destructive, along with materials and processes such as acid, ballistics, cybernetics, electricity, explosives, feed-back, human energy, mass-production, nuclear energy, and radiation. Auto-destructive art transformed technology into public art and mirrored ‘the compulsive perfectionism of arms manufacture – polishing to destruction point.’[4]

Fittingly, Pat Arrowsmith, Field Secretary for the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War, wrote one of the earliest reviews of Metzger’s work for Peace News: ‘I myself walked into London beside him at the end of last year’s Aldermaston March … [He also] stood up on a soap box to address the stall-holders of Watton market.’[5] Metzger’s activism led him to become a founder member of the Committee of 100, a group dedicated to non-violent civil disobedience. In September 1961 at Bow Street Magistrates Court, Metzger, along with other members of the Committee, refused to be bound over to keep the peace for a year. For this Metzger was imprisoned for a month along with other Committee members including Alex Comfort, Bertrand Russell, Arnold Wesker and Christopher Logue. At his trial he read out a prepared statement: ‘I came to this country from Germany when 12 years old, my parents being Polish Jews, and I am grateful for the Government for bringing me over. My parents disappeared in 1943 and I would have shared their fate. But the situation is now far more barbarous than Buchenwald, for there can be absolute obliteration at any moment. I have no other choice than to assert my right to live, and we have chosen, in this committee, a method of fighting which is the exact opposite of war – the principle of total non-violence.’[6]

In July 1961, just before his trial, Metzger organised a key auto-destructive event, an open-air demonstration at the South Bank in London. Armed with a spray gun filled with acid and dressed in combat clothing and a gasmask, he attacked three large sheets of nylon attached to a metal frame. The accompanying manifesto contained Metzger’s first mention of computers as a possible ingredient of auto-destructive art: ‘Auto-destructive art and auto-creative art aim at the integration of art with the advances of science and technology. The immediate objective is the creation, with the aid of computers, of works of art whose movements are programmed and include “self-regulation”. The spectator, by means of electronic devices can have a direct bearing on the action of these works. Auto-destructive art is an attack on capitalist values and the drive to nuclear annihilation.’[7]

It took another four years before Metzger provided a more detailed proposal to create an artwork that included a computer as an integral element.[8] Five Screens with Computer, he wrote, would consist of five walls or screens made of stainless steel, each 30 feet high, 40 feet long and two feet deep. They would be arranged about 25 feet apart in a central area between three high-rise tower blocks. Each wall would be composed of 10,000 uniform elements made of stainless steel, glass or plastic and be square, rectangular or hexagonal in shape. Each element would be individually ejected from the screen over a period of ten years until the screens literally fell to pieces.

Metzger still had to work out how the elements would be ejected but at this point he proposed the use of magnets and compressed air. The computer’s job was to control – according to a program devised by the artist – the sequence of these ejections. This program would take into account the quality of light and shade, the revolution of the earth, the various seasons, the weather and spectator participation via photo-electronic switches. Metzger claimed that the computer would link art, technology and society and only through its use could the artist ‘achieve forms and rhythms that correspond[ed] to his aims.’ Through the work Metzger aimed to re-channel the destructive potential of the computer: ‘Today, death is fed into, processed and administered by the computers.’ Unlike his acid on nylon paintings, the computer also provided an escape from connotations of expressionism and the fetishisation of the mark left by the artist’s hand. This huge sculpture, in such a prominent public space, would make a spectacle of destruction and in the process, Metzger hoped, would ‘initiate a series of controversies that can become a kind of mass-therapy as well as educational programme.’[9] Equally you could imagine some viewers, especially those living in the nearby tower blocks, reading the random ejections of the units as analogous to the lack of autonomy and control in their own lives. And, of course, the irony now is that it is the tower blocks themselves that are regularly demolished in celebratory and public spectacles of destruction and regeneration.

Metzger’s interest in computer art in 1965 coincided with a number of key events in its early history, most significantly the first computer art exhibitions at the Technische Hochschule in Stuttgart and the Howard Wise Gallery in New York. A year later IBM recruited its first artist-in-residence, John Whitney Sr., and the Museum of Modern Art purchased Charles Csuri’s computer-generated image Hummingbird.[10]

Metzger spent much of 1966 organising the Destruction In Art Symposium (DIAS) and much of 1967 dealing with its consequences[11], but he returned to the problematic of working with computers in 1968 for the exhibition ‘Cybernetic Serendipity: The Computer and the Arts.’[12] Curated by Jasia Reichardt, it was the first exhibition in Britain to demonstrate the creative potential of computers. Metzger’s participation, however, did not prevent him severely criticising the exhibition. His focus remained on issues of social responsibility for both the artists and scientists involved in the new technology and he countered those who advocated the utopian possibilities of the coming computer age with sobering details of its origins in military research. ‘Cybernetic Serendipity’, he complained, provided ‘a perfectly adequate demonstration of the reactionary potential of art and technology. No end of information on computers composing haiku – no hint that computers dominate modern war; that they are becoming the most totalitarian tools ever used on society. We are faced by this prospect – whilst more and more scientists are investigating the threats that science and technology pose for society, artists are being led into a technological kindergarten.’[13] Metzger’s contribution to the exhibition took the form of a description of his latest version of Five Screens with Computer. Slight modifications included increasing the distance between the screens from 25 feet to 30 feet and also the introduction of a festive element when suggesting that the ‘frequency of ejections on holidays may reach 600 a day.’[14]

The work’s most developed description came a year later during ‘Event One’ at the Royal College of Art (29-30 March 1969). The most significant modification saw the number of elements in each screen reduced from 10,000 down to 1200. Metzger also provided more details on how the individual elements would operate: ‘These elements can be moved forwards or backwards within a frame at controlled speeds, and will finally be ejected at various controlled speeds, reaching a maximum distance of 30ft.’ Metzger utilised the computer in three key areas: design, operation and recording:


Since all the decisions on the activity of the screens will be made before production begins it is necessary to have the most complete understanding of the work’s potential at the design stage. A computer allied to graphic output will be used to plot the numerous possibilities for moving and ejecting elements, and for visualizing the possible shapes of the screens in transformation. 55% of the elements will be ejected on a pre-determined programme. The rest (including one entire screen) will be ejected in a random manner. These random ejections will be sparked off by intense sun or electric light, or by the assembly of people above a certain number in the vicinity of a screen. Random ejections are subject to a variety of controls such as structural considerations, and will be co-ordinated with the overall programme.


A computer will be in general control of the electro/mechanical activity of the sculpture – continuous adjustments (on-line) will be necessary. The computer will also direct peripheral activity such as the raising of the glass wall surrounding the site before ejections can take place.


The computer will be used to print out and draw the day-by-day development of the screens. This will be necessary to check on operational, structural, and safety factors, and will be an aid to maintenance activities. This graphic output, along with photographs and films, will be preserved as part of the documentation on the work.[15]

In another text from this period Metzger stated that when not being employed by the ejections the computer could be used by the inhabitants of the flats: ‘By means of telephone lines it can serve as a local convenient library for the inhabitants.’[16]

Metzger’s description of the project offered little explanation of how the artwork’s immediate audience might be consulted or invited to interact with the sculpture. As Metzger clearly stated in the ‘Event One’ text ‘all the decisions on the activity of the screens would be made before production begins.’ This point is significant because, if realised, such a sculpture would almost certainly have attracted great resentment from its local audience. Not only would there have been extensive and expensive construction and maintenance work, there would also have been considerable noise from the explosive ejection of the units, which in themselves would have posed a serious health risk (only belatedly allayed by Metzger’s suggestion that a retractable glass wall should surround the site, protecting both the public from the sculpture and the sculpture from the public).

It was probably these and many other pragmatic concerns that stopped Metzger from taking his proposals any further. After ‘Event One’ his engagement with computers and art became increasingly bound up with a new organisation, the Computer Arts Society (CAS), set up ‘to encourage the creative use of computers in the arts and allow the exchange of information in this area.’ The idea for the Society was first mooted on the afternoon of 7 August 1968 at an informal session on Computers and Music at the IFIP Congress in Edinburgh.[17] Alan Sutcliffe, then Head of ICL’s Programme Research Unit, became its Chairman, R.J. Lansdown, Architectural Partner of Ian Fraser & Associates, became its Secretary, and Metzger volunteered to be the founding editor of its newsletter, PAGE: Bulletin of the Computer Arts Society. The Society initially held its meetings in rooms donated by the British Computer Society at 29 Portland Place, London, but by June 1971 it had moved into its own permanent space, two rooms on the second floor of The Dairy in Camden, a large complex of artists’ studios run by SPACE.

In 1971 the membership of CAS consisted of 500 enthusiasts worldwide. At this time access to computers was severely limited, with most being owned by scientific and military institutions. Artistic projects formed only a small and often informal element of their operation, so as part of the Society’s brief to publicise and lobby for artistic projects, it hosted events such as the Computer Art session at Computer Graphics 70.[18] Advertised as ‘More than a symposium – more than an exhibition – an international meeting of minds’ the conference boasted key representatives from the industrial-military complex: General Motors, Lockheed Georgia, Mobil Oil Corporation, Royal Navy, Ford Motor Company, Space Flight Center, Boeing, Sperry Rand and Unilever.’ At the conference Metzger presented a paper on ‘New Ideas in Plotter Design Construction and Output’ and two months later, on 24 June, he gave another paper, this time at the British Computer Society, entitled ‘Computers and Sculpture’.

Such activities formed part of Metzger’s plan to ‘seek an alliance with the most advanced research in natural and artificial intelligence.’[19] It also complemented his active membership of the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science,[20] and culminated in a two-page essay for PAGE, where he listed every article that had appeared in the main professional journals of the day (Computers and Automation and Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery) that exposed links between computers and weapons of mass destruction. For Metzger these references and selected quotations also provided ample proof that the development of computers and armaments were both closely integrated with the capitalist economy.[21]

Metzger’s involvement with PAGE ended with issue 26 in November 1972, when the bulletin announced he was ‘too busy’ with other projects to continue.[22] These projects included his participation in 3 Life Situations at Gallery House, his assistance in founding the Artists’ Union and his preparations for the Art Strike, 1977-1980.[23] He published no further plans for Five Screens with Computer and for most of the 1980s kept an extremely low profile, only returning to public life in the 1990s with proposals for artworks that focused increasingly on environmental issues. More recently curators have included his work in important historical group shows, such as Life/Live, Out of Actions and Live in Your Head[24] and a major retrospective of his work took place in 1998 at Oxford’s Museum of Modern Art.[25] To date, though, most attention has continued to focus on Metzger’s spectacular acts of destruction with little attention being paid to his brief engagement with computer science.

In retrospect Five Screens with Computer appeared at the height of what became the first false dawn of computer arts. It would take at least another two decades, the development of personal computers and the growth of the internet, before digital art once again achieved even nominal artworld status. Thirty-odd years on, however, Metzger’s critique of the dubious techno-utopianism of some computer artists and his inconvenient pointing at the origin of much computer technology in the military and state security sectors, still holds true. Also sadly prescient is his non-ironic assertion in 1971 that in terms of computer art, at least, ‘the real avant-garde was the army’.[26]

[1] Gustav Metzger, ‘The Artist in the Face of Social Collapse’ in Melanie Keen (ed.) Frequencies: Investigations into Culture, History and Technology. London: inIVA, 1998, p. 82[2] Metzger in Kristine Stiles, The Destruction In Art Symposium (DIAS): The Radical Cultural Project of Event-Structured Live Art. Unpublished PhD Thesis. Berkeley: University of California, 1987, p. 74[3] Gustav Metzger, ‘Auto-Destructive Art’, London, 4 November 1959. The manifesto accompanied an exhibition, at 14 Monmouth Street, of discarded cardboard packaging that Metzger discovered on Fulham Road[4] Gustav Metzger, ‘Manifesto of Auto-Destructive Art’, London, 10 March 1960[5] Pat Arrowsmith, ‘Auto-Destructive Art’, Peace News, 22 July 1960, p. 11. The review was of a demonstration that took place at the Temple Gallery, London, on 22 June 1960[6] Gustav Metzger in ‘Quotes from Bow Street’, Peace News, 15 September 1961, p. 7[7] Gustav Metzger, ‘Auto-Destructive Art, Machine Art, Auto-Creative Art’, London, 23 June 1961[8] Gustav Metzger, Auto-destructive Art: A Talk at the Architectural Association. London: Destruction / Creation, 1965. In the text Metzger acknowledged the assistance of Beverly Rowe, then Chief applications programmer at the University of London Computer Centre. She later became a founding member of the Computer Arts Society[9] Ibid, p. [10] See Charlie Gere, Digital Culture, London: Reaktion Books, 2002, p. 100. Metzger was also well aware of the work of Roy Ascott and shared his interest in cybernetics. In December 1962 Ascott invited Metzger to give a lecture on auto-destructive art at Ealing College of Art. In the audience was Pete Townshend who later took some of Metzger’s ideas into the realm of rock music with his spectacular auto-destructive performances with The Who[11] DIAS ran from 31 August – 30 September 1966. After the performance by Hermann Nitsch at St Brides Institute on Fleet Street, on 15 September 1966, Metzger and his fellow organiser John Sharkey were charged with ‘having unlawfully caused to be shown a lewd and indecent exhibition.’ On [19] July 1967 the court found Metzger guilty and he accepted a £100 fine rather than spend four months in jail[12] The exhibition was held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 2 August – 20 October 1968. See also: Jasia Reichardt, (ed.). Cybernetics, Art and Ideas. London: Studio Vista, 197113 Gustav Metzger, ‘Automata in History: Part 1’, Studio International, March 1969, pp. 107-109[14] Gustav Metzger, ‘Five Screens with Computer’ in Jasia Reichardt (ed.) Cybernetic Serendipity: The Computer and The Arts. London: Studio International, 1968, p. 31[15] Gustav Metzger, ‘Five Screens with Computer (1963-69)’: in Event One, London: Computer Art Society, 1969, unpaginated. Metzger accompanied the text with a scematic drawing of ‘the development of one screen (no. 3) in the first three years of its activity.’ The drawing is credited to Mr. D.E. Evans, of the Computer Unit, Imperial College, London and was produced on an ‘IBM 7094 11 (32K memory) with CALCOMP plotter.’[16] Gustav Metzger, speech at the conference Computers and Visual Research, Zagreb, 1969, transcript in Bit International, no. 7, 1971. As a further sign of Metzger’s commitment to computer art at this time he was also working on the translation into English of Herbert Werner Franke’s seminal work Computer Graphics, Computer Art published by Phaidon in 1971[17] Mission statement and information from PAGE, no. 3, June 196918 Hosted by Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex, 14-16 April 1970. Information from conference programme: Computer Graphics 70, Uxbridge, 1970[19] Gordon Hyde, Jonathan Benthall, and Gustav Metzger. ‘Zagreb Manifesto’, Studio International, June 1969, p. 259[20] Formed in April 1969[21] Gustav Metzger, ‘Social Responsibility and the Computer Professional, Part 1’, PAGE, no. 11, October 1970. There was no part 2[22] Anon, PAGE, no. 26, November 1972[23] Metzger’s announcement can be found in Art into Society – Society into Art. London: ICA, 1974, p. 74[24] Life/Live, MusÈe d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 5 October – 5 January 1997; Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object 1949-1979, The Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 8 February – 10 May 1998 and travelling; and Live in Your Head: Concept and Experiment in Britain, 1965-75, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 4 February – 2 April 2000[25] See the catalogue: Gustav Metzger, Kerry Brougher, and Astrid Bowron, (eds). Oxford: Museum of Modern Art Oxford, 1998[26] Citing as evidence the success – in the first computer art competition organised by Computers and Automation in 1963 – of the US Army Ballistic Missile Research Laboratory. See Metzger, op cit, Bit International, no. 7, 1971. According to Charlie Gere the US Army also won second place. See Gere, op cit, 2002, p. 100

Simon Ford <fordmobile AT> is the author of Hip Priest: the Story of Mark E. Smith and the Fall (Quartet, 2003)

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